20 February 2010

Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

Do you recall the blogpost about the great, rusty-voiced Vietnam vet with the used furniture shop in Cohoes? Many readers have mentioned that it was one of their favorite posts. Well, good news folks, he's still there!

And just this weekend, he told me a story...

Every night when Jimmy Durante signed off from The Jimmy Durante Show, the last thing he said was, "Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." Who was Mrs. Calabash? Nobody ever really knew the answer.

According to the story, back in the days before Jimmy Durante became Jimmy Durante, he had some work playing ragtime piano. Every day when he went to his job, there was a beautiful and well-respected woman, and every day, he fell more and more in love with her. One day, in spite of the big nose for which he became known, he got up the confidence and asked this woman to marry him. She turned him down.

History holds that somewhere along the way, Jimmy Durante scored his big break, got radio and television airtime, and even his own prime time show. He never forgot about that beautiful lady, though, even though he didn't see or hear of her for many years.

That lady--Mrs. Calabash, she did watch his show. Every night, after mixing with folks like Frank Sinatra and Eddie Jackson, when Jimmy'd say, "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are," she knew he was talking to her.

Well, Jimmy married--first Jeanne Olsen, then Margie Little. Many years later, he saw Mrs. Calabash again. As the time had slipped away, so too had her good looks. Life had not been kind to her. 

And so, though he continued on his own path, Jimmy Durante supported Mrs. Calabash, for the rest of her life. 


Whether completely true or not, it makes for a great story!


Laura B said...

Aw that's adorable! I have definitely heard that line before but never knew the story of where it came from. Haley, I learn something new from you everyday. xoxo!!

August Massey said...

I heard a different Story.....The Mrs. Calabash sign-off referred to Jimmy Durante's 1st wife, Jeanne Olson. Calabash was a city, their inside joke. ChaCha!

Anonymous said...

Well, these 2 stories can't both be right, and I'm stickin to mine.
By Ted Tyson
Scarborough, Ontario

"GOOD NIGHT, Mrs. Calabash--wherever you are!"
For years, Jimmy Durante ended his radio and television shows with that unusual sign-off. Most people thought the mysterious Mrs. Calabash must have been some fictional character that Durante dreamed up just to tease his audiences. But longtime residents of Calabash, North Carolina believe otherwise. The folks in this town will tell you she was a real person with a real name--and a fascinating story to boot. They claim that Mrs. Calabash was really a local woman named Lucille "Lucy" Coleman.
In 1940, Lucy was 28 years old and running a restaurant in Calabash, then a tiny seaside community bordering South Carolina. Durante and his touring entertainment troupe are said to have stopped in for supper one night. It may have been the genuine homespun friendliness of the young restaurant owner that prompted the gregarious Jimmy Durante to beckon Lucy over to his table for some short chitchat. "I'm going to make you famous," vowed Durante, thinking she recognized his well-known face. (In fact, at that moment, she didn't even know who he was!) Lucy's daughter, Clarice Holden, says she will never forget what happened next.


"As Mr. Durante and his group were walking out the door after their meal," Clarice recalls,"he turned to my mom and said, 'Good night Mrs. Calabash.' "
It wasn't long afterward that this popular entertainer began signing off his radio shows with a similar message. For years, audiences enjoyed this rather lighthearted farewell mystery. By the time of Durante's death in 1980, it had become one of his trademarks, almost as recognizable as his big "schnozzola". But while that sign-off may have remained a mystery to most folks, Calabash residents believe it was Durante's way of saying to Mrs. Coleman, "Hi, Lucy--I remember you, if you're still out there now."
Lucy Coleman passed away in 1989, nearly 50 years after her meeting with Jimmy Durante. Calabash residents note that Lucy recognized the significance of Durante's little secret message but preferred to stay out of the limelight. She had no desire to claim credit as the real "Mrs. Calabash." "Mom was a very private person," recalls Clarice, "She didn't speak much about her 'Mrs. Calabash' entity, and declined all interviews and all invitations to appear on television."
Apparently, Durante's popularity was so great that he could immortalize a prim Southern restaurant keeper. But neither he nor anyone else could get her to talk.

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